When Google started its search engine there were only desktop and laptop computers. The entire system built up around the idea that a website needed to look right and perform well for a full-size screen. That has changed. Google has now started using the mobile-indexing score to inform search rank for websites that have at least as good of a mobile score as a desktop score. This means that designing websites for the mobile experience first and then the desktop experience is critical to a good rank in search results. We call this "Mobile First" design.
In this post we'll start by covering what this means for website design, then go in to more technical detail on mobile first indexing.
Mobile First Design
At AssetLab we've been moving with a Mobile First approach for the last two years, this means:
- All new websites are built to look good on mobile and desktop screens
- When refreshing websites to a new theme, we make sure it handles mobile perfectly before looking at the desktop view
- When making changes or additions to websites we test on mobile and desktop screens
We recommend that all of you use these same techniques. When making a change to a website, make sure to look at it on your phone as well as on your desktop or laptop.
Now, there is one important wrinkle to all this:
- Some websites get far more desktop traffic than mobile traffic
When this is the case we always make sure mobile looks good, but we design for a desktop experience. This way, Google and other search engines that switch to mobile-first indexing still get a great representation of the website.
Some Details On Mobile-First-Indexing
A mobile-first index means that when a search engine is crawling websites on the internet, it is presenting itself as a phone and rendering the website on a phone-sized screen. Content, graphics, scrolling, etc are all evaluated based on the small screen. The user-friendliness measures, the image evaluations, the topic determination, the link evaluation is all measured based on a phone-sized-screen. These "mobile index" scores are then used to inform search results rank. Until now, when Google has been crawling the internet, it has been using a "desktop index" based on requesting a website as a device that has a laptop size screen.
The transition from the Desktop Index to the Mobile Index is a soft one, not a cliff or brick wall. This means that Google is actually crawling with both a desktop and a mobile indexer. When a website ranks at least as well on mobile as on desktop then the "primary" indexer is switching to mobile. If a webmaster has a Google Webmaster Tools account then a website with a mobile rank that is worse off gets a notification from Google that there is work to do.
- It's time to design websites with a mobile screen in mind FIRST
- Websites need to be tested with a mobile screen and any issues fixed FIRST
- All websites should have an account on Google Webmaster Tools so that notifications can be sent by Google to someone who can act on technical tasks
- If you need help getting mobile going in the right direction: Ask For Help! or Ask For Help!